The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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Archive for February, 2010

Ferry Chelan Looking Pretty

Friday, February 26th, 2010

The Chelan got a much-needed exterior topside paint job during its recent drydock at Todd Pacific Shipyards. There are some nice before-and-after shots here. What was all rusty orange is now shiny white.

Next, the car deck will be painted, but that won’t happen until later. It’s going back to the Anacortes-San Juan Islands route on Monday.

The Hyak, which frequently runs on the Bremerton route, and Yakima are in dire need of paint jobs. The Yakima will get a partial topside coating when it goes into maintenance in March, but the Hyak will have to wait until November to get its partial topside coating.


Watch Ferries Bounce Across Screen in Real Time

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Washington State Ferries has launched a new and improved Vessel Watch tool on its Web page. A Beta version, it’s a work in progress, but already cooler than its primitive but useful predecessor.
The new Vessel Watch pretty much does the same thing as the old, but better. They’re both basically maps with little icons representing the boats so you can see which ones are on a route and where they are at the moment.
The new map is more detailed and looks a lot nicer, which doesn’t really add to its functionality, but you can zoom in and out, which you can’t on the old one. Every few seconds you can see the new boat icons move across the water, like green jumping beans. It uses GPS coordinates from the boats’ transponders. On the old map, you had to hit the refresh button for the little blue arrows to move to their approximate locations.
They’re still working on some advanced features. If you click on a boat, a screen pops up with slots for next departure, estimated arrival time, heading, speed, longitude and latitude. Today, only the heading is working. I’m pretty sure the latitude and longitude were there when I looked a few days ago. The next departure time is supposed to be available by the end of the month.


House Budget Doesn’t Have Surcharge, Either

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Moments after posting about the Senate transportation budget not including a ferry fuel surcharge, I got a story from the Associated Press that the House had released its transpo budget.

I looked into it, and here are some key points for ferries.

It would spend $27 million to cover the cost of diesel prices that were higher than what they were budgeted.

It would defer implementing a ferry fuel surcharge. That policy would be re-evaluated after looking into ways to conserve fuel and reduce the effect of price volatility on the fuel budget.

It continues to support the building of three 64-car ferries and provides an additional $8.45 million to finalize the detailed design for the 144-car ferries.

It provides funding to develop a reservation system.


No Ferry Fuel Surcharge in Senate Budget

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

There’s been some confusion about whether a ferry fuel surcharge in the Senate’s transportation budget. It’s not very clear in the budget language itself, so I talked to Senate staff and they said no. The ferries are fully funded in their budget through this budget period, which ends on June 30, 2011. So there will be no surcharge before then. There is language in the bill that authorizes Washington State Ferries to set up the mechanism for a surcharge that it can use if necessary in the future.


Ferry Advisory Committee Changes Removed From Bill

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Ann Erickson, chairwoman of the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee, e-mailed a letter to the editor on Jan. 29 lamenting changes to the ferry advisory committees contained within Senate Bill 6109. Much changed between then and when the letter ran in the paper on Feb. 6. All mention of the committees was removed from the bill, according to Chris Mulick, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.
“I’m told that the ferry bill doesn’t do anything to impact the Ferry Advisory Committee,” he wrote on Feb. 1. “That’s not to say that won’t change. but as of this moment in time, there is no impact. Or so I’m told.”
The bill is a hodgepodge of all things ferries. That had included the FAC changes. Erickson was upset that it would have eliminated the direct relationship between the FACs and Washington State Ferries. Instead, the FACs would work through local governments.
It would have eliminated the semi-annual public meetings. WSF would have meet with local governments instead. It would have eliminated the FAC executive council, comprising the chairs of each FAC. They meet every other month with WSF. And it would have required local officials to serve on FACs and constrain who local officials could assign to the FACs.
This makes little sense because the FACs have been doing a good job of working with the ferry system and local governments already have too much to do and wouldn’t have been eager to carry out another responsibility.
The bill remains alive in the Senate, without the FAC stuff.


Transportation Commission Apologizes for Upsetting Survey Question

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

A ferry survey question freaked out some who are signed up for the Washington State Transportation Commission’s Ferry Rider Opinion Group (FROG), and ultimately resulted in an apology.
Last week, a question went out whether cutting the ferry schedule by a third or increasing fares by a third would severely reduce the person’s ridership.
“This is akin to asking if you’d rather be run over by a bus going uptown or a bus going downtown,” Bremerton City Councilman Adam Brockus e-mailed me. Cathy Ridley of Kingston also wrote in, “They don’t sugar-coat it, do they?” and the Transportation Commission apparently got lots of nastygrams. It issued an apology to everybody who received the question.
“I would like to sincerely apologize for any confusion or frustration the question may have caused you, wrote commission chairwoman Carol Moser. “It was not our intent to offend or upset anyone by asking it.”
She said there will be a more thorough review and vetting process in developing future questions.
The question was part of a side activity of the FROG Web site. They are doing occassional quick polls that are single, hypothetical questions aimed at getting a quick response from folks. The results appear in live time and fluctuate as people respond. Detailed survey questionnaires will be sent out in March and over the summer.
“I hope you will accept our apology and stick with us as we move forward into this very new world of opinion polling,” Moser wrote. “There will be some bumps in the road, as we’ve seen with this latest question, but if we stay committed to working together, we will all have the benefit of being part of something that makes an impact on the future of our ferry system.”
Kari Ulatoski, Ferry Community Partnership chairwoman, expressed her disappointment to the Transportation Commission. Commission administrator Reema Griffith replied.
“Bottom line – this question was not asked in the proper manner nor was it properly vetted and reviewed,” she said. “We will be sending out an apology e-mail later today, but do understand we did NOT intend to offend or upset anybody – nor are there any plans to cut service and/or raise fares.”
She also said Washington State Ferries had nothing to do with the question, so leave them alone.


Behind the Toll-Setting Scenes

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

I didn’t have the space in Wednesday’s paper to get into the simmering Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll controversy, other than to say there’ll be a meeting on Tuesday in Gig Harbor.
For a difference of 50 cents per crossing, things are really heating up. The citizen advisory group recommended that electronic tolls stay at $2.75; the Transportation Commission wants $3.25.
The latest episode is that local legislators had asked for meetings in Port Orchard and Gig Harbor where the state treasurer could explain his new “framework” to the public and the Transportation Commission could back up their proposal. Treasurer Jim MacIntire wants to maintain a higher reserve than the citizen group has done in the past. The Narrows doesn’t need it, but it will look good when the state is trying to get the lowest bond rates for future mega-projects.
After those meetings, the citizen group would meet to decide whether to stand its ground or fall in with the Transportation Commission.
Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, and Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, were pretty ticked off when they found out the first two meetings weren’t scheduled, only the citizen group meeting (5-7 p.m., Civic Center).
“The people need to understand what is happening here,” Angel said. “That’s what we wanted more than anything, a meeting that would provide that information to the public.
“The three of us are greatly disappointed. They’re not paying any attention to us. They’re going to do what they want to do and just let it go.”
“I’m disappointed we’re not offering our citizens a chance to understand this proposal,” Seaquist said. “Sen. Kilmer, Rep. Angel and I remain opposed to it.”
It looks like the Transportation Commission is trying to combine the three meetings into one. The treasurer will speak, Commissioner Dan O’Neal will explain the Transportation Commission’s position and then the citizen group will decide.
Reema Griffith, the Transportation Commission’s administrator, said the commission won’t host any public meetings until it has an actual rate proposal and the financial plan that goes with it. The members are wrestling with whether the treasurer’s 110 percent coverage factor is the right thing to do. They’re not unanimous on that, she said.
“It’s currently premature for the commission to publicly host anything,” she said. “We’re not sure what we’re going to say is the right path to take on this.”
The commission made its $3.25/$5 proposal to get the citizen group’s reaction, she said. It’s probably on the higher end of what they’re considering.
“There’s plenty of room for discussion,” she said. “We’re far from committed to it. We’re getting reaction from the treasurer and we’re going to get reaction from the CAC.”
Griffith does side with the treasurer that tolls policy must be consistent statewide, so this decision has implications for future toll-setting.
“The bottom line is it’s all in flux right now,” she said. “We’re trying to assure people it’s not a done deal, that the horse hasn’t left the barn.”
After Tuesday’s meeting, the citizen group will report back to the Transportation Commission at its Feb. 16-17 meeting and the commission will decide on the number of local public input meetings. The commission will release its official toll proposal at its March 16-17 meeting, hold public input meetings in April and hold its final rate hearing where it will enact the rates in late May. They will go into effect on July 1.


What Do You Want From Transit?

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Kitsap Transit is playing to a tough crowd.
I wrote a story for Saturday’s paper that told about transit executives and board members committing to plan the agency’s long-range future so as not to spend money on things they don’t need. It seemed like a wise move, but readers who commented on the story showed no mercy. Seventeen of 18 messages were negative.
Just the words “Kitsap Transit” bring out hostility in people. One of the agency’s first goals needs to be to somehow turn around its image, otherwise it’ll be hard to get anything done.
But what can it do? What do people want from Kitsap Transit?
I get the fast ferry complaint. Twice you voted down sales tax increases for ferries. Still the agency wants to put them on the water. You think you’re not being listened to and don’t want to pay for somebody else’s commute. But if you’re a commuter, fast ferries are the best thing going. Not much middle ground there. Did you ever ride the Chinook or Snohomish before they were forced to slow down? They were too cool, outside of scouring beaches down to hardpan. Plus, the state was paying for them.
Several commenters chided Kitsap Transit for being “Kitsap Commuter Transit.” It serves commuters to the ferries and the shipyard well, but not those who want to get from Suquamish to the mall during the day. Well, buses need to go where the people are. They’re for “mass” transit, not taxi service. If you think they’re highly subsidized now, imagine how much it would cost to run to the boonies all the time to fetch a couple people.
A commenter said, “ … try and get a bus from Hansville to Port Orchard to Olalla to Belfair.” Has anybody every wanted to do that?
We all benefit to some degree, though it doesn’t seem like it when we’re sitting on Navy Yard Highway when the shipyard lets out or stuck in Highway 305 ferry traffic. Just think of how much worse it would be if those thousands of people riding in buses were driving cars.
Fares, by the way, cover 19 percent of Kitsap Transit’s operating costs. Seventy-seven percent comes from local sales taxes. Everybody in the county pays it, so I guess you could argue that everybody should get the same service. Maybe in New York or Chicago, but not here. Did people move to Seabeck or Olalla expecting to ride the bus? I don’t think so. How did they get around before there was a Kitsap Transit?
Commenters also complained that Kitsap Transit and its board are Bremerton-centered. It’s hard to argue otherwise, considering it helped to build the Bremerton Transportation Center, has a floor for its headquarters above the Kitsap Conference Center, and the routed and Access main bases are in the city. My question would be, where would be better.
Three board members are from Bremerton, two each from North Kitsap and South Kitsap, and one each from Bainbridge and Central Kitsap. They’re mayors, county commissioners and city council people.
Kitsap Transit says its first task will be to restore Sunday and other service that have been cut the past couple years because of budget shortfalls. That would be a good place to start in restoring some goodwill.